Yes, Virginia, there is an online version of my Worldbuilding course and there are still slots open, so go sign up already!

And yes, I am taking this week to pimp that.

This isn’t a webinar-type thing where you have to sign on at a certain time. It’s a bit more self-guided than that. But I will be reading and commenting on written exercises, and answering questions via Writer’s Digest’s Blackboard system.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Session One: Magic & Technology

It’s not fantasy without magic and it’s not science fiction without advanced technology. What your characters can do, the means by which they communicate, defend themselves, travel, and so on, will have to be as plausible as they are imaginative.

A snippet from the Session One “lecture”:

Who can use magic, or operate this technology?

If anyone can do it, and it’s reasonably accessible, how then does magic change the “medieval” world you started with? If your fantasy characters have a magical version of the smart phone, what “apps” do they have? What other magical gizmo has subbed in for technology: hot and cold running water? Computers? Cars? Airplanes?

This is why fantasy authors tend to limit access to magic to some chosen few, or make the sources of magic energy rare and difficult to find, control, and/or protect. So then who can use this thing, only men or only women? Only “special” people? What makes them “special”? Is someone controlling who uses it?

Session Two: Monsters

Monsters and aliens are a staple of the genre, and must be created with care. Discussion will include monsters as metaphor, monsters as characters, and how to build believable yet bizarre and terrifying creatures.

A snippet from the Session Two “lecture”:

Show vs. Tell

And remember the so-often given advice to fiction authors: Show how scary the monster is, don’t just tell us, “The monster was scary.” Describe the reactions of the characters around it. They open their mouths in desperate, silent screams. One of them begins muttering, hands clasped tightly over his eyes in a vain attempt to shut out the memory of the devil’s twisted features . . . That’s more entertaining to read, and is always going to elicit a more visceral reaction than, “Everyone thought it looked bad—like a real monster.”

Session Three: People & Cultures

Humans, elves, and Martians alike, the fantasy and science fiction genres have imagined a wide range of sentient creatures. We’ll learn how to populate our worlds with believable and compelling characters. But people are more than just their DNA. We’ll also take a close look at the way people interact with each other and the world around them.

A snippet from the Session Three “lecture”:

The Other

This is an important question to ask yourself before you even begin to develop your version of elves, aliens, and whatnot: What function do these people serve? A sentient species or radically different race shouldn’t just show up for no particular reason. In fact, nothing in your writing should show up for no particular reason. What do these people do for your story, for the world? And both those question may well be answered by answering this question first: What do they say about us?

Session Four: Government & Religion

If “culture” defines how people view each other, governments and religions define the rules by which they live their lives. We’ll discuss both the positive and negative aspects of the institutions that send us off to prayer or war, a wedding ceremony or a voting booth.

A snippet from the Session Four “lecture”:

Aspirational vs. Cautionary

The United Federation of Planets in the Star Trek universe was created as a shining example of what we might achieve—it’s aspirational: If we continue the social and technological advances of the 60s we’ll defeat racism, poverty, greed, nationalism, and so on. Gene Roddenberry created a government worth fighting for, something Captain Kirk can defend to the death and we’ll cheer him on.

Science fiction has also given us governments that are cautionary. Certainly the most famous is the totalitarian oligarchy of George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984. In this novel, Orwell extends what he saw as the rise of the military industrial complex, the perpetual-war economy of the Cold War, as a trend toward the destruction of individual rights. This became a government that doesn’t support the hero like the Federation supports Captain Kirk, but a government that acts as the villain, to be defeated by the hero.

. . . and lots more, especially since the real value of programs like this reside in the feedback, the give-and-take, question-and-answer . . . what are you waiting for? Let’s build some worlds!


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Books, creative team, Dungeons & Dragons, E-Books, fantasy movies, horror movies, horror novels, how to write fiction, indie publishing, monsters, NaNoWriMo, POD, Publishing Business, RPG, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, science fiction movies, SF and Fantasy Authors, transmedia, Video Games, Writing, writing advice, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. TheBlackTail says:

    Just enrolled, smiles & soon fr Malaysia 🙂

  2. lidy says:

    Hi Philip, I tried clicking the links to sign up for your online worldbuilding workshop but whether or not I try accessing it in Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Firefox, it says that the webpage is not available? Has the link been disabled because the course is full or is that an error?

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